Two , Three And Four Dimensional Burroughs

August 2, 2009


Two, Three And Four Dimensional Burroughs


R.E. Prindle

     George McWhorter, the headmaster of our school, published a couple of very interesting letters in the Burroughs Bulletin, New Series #79, Summer 2009 issue.

     In the first letter a Leo Baker from Nova Scotia proposed an idea to ERB.  Burroughs gave a very interesting reply:

     On March 16, 1920, I started a story along similar lines based on a supposed theory of angles rather than planes.  If we viewed our surrundings from our own “angle of experience,” the aspect of the vibrations which are supposed to consitute both matter and thought were practically identical with those pervceived by all the creatures of the world that we know, whereas, should our existence have been cast in another angle, everything would be different, including the flora and fauna and the physical topography of the world.

     The thought underlying the story was that wherefrom, viewed thus from a different angle, the vibrations that are matter took on an entirely different semblance, so that where before we had seen oceans, we might now see mountains, plains and rivers inhabited by creatures that might be identical with those which we had hithertoo been familiar, or might vary diametrically.

     You see that it was a crazy story….

     Now, Burroughs was a child of his times.  Part of those times were some very remarkable speculative works by a remarkable thinker, Camille Flammarion.  In his work Lumen for instance he demonstrates the non-existence of time.  We know that ERB read Flammarion.  We know that Burroughs went to lengths to demonstrate the non-existence of time.  He may have drawn his own conclusions but as he read Flammarion say, by 1900, the notion at least was deposited in his mind where subconsciously it came to fruition prompted by Einstein no doubt.  There were a couple other imaginative scientific writers of the late nineteenth century that my Burroughs studies led to me read.  As has been said of old:  When the student is ready the teacher will appear.  I suppose I was ready and I read.  Having read them they resonated quite strongly of ERB’s work but without anything other than ‘resonances’ to go on I didn’t dare suggest the ERB might have read them.

     Other than Flammarion the two works I have in mind are Edwin Abbott’s Flatland: A Romance Of Many Dimensions and Charles Howard Hinton’s Scientific Romances.  Flatland was published in 1884, Scientific Romances undoubtedly inspired by Flatland appeared in 1886.  Flatland is still a famous if recondite book while Hinton is less well known.

     Both works deal with lines and angles in a manner that as ERB suggests is ‘crazy.’  One has an unreal feeling in reading the books.  Either ERB felt the same of his story or he was so close to Abbott and Hinton that he desisted.  One notes, however, that his description of his 1920 story is very close to his Pellucidar stories and it was Pellucidar that was brought to my mind while reading Hinton and Abbott.  ERB notices a theory of angles rather than planes combined with ‘vibrations.’  This suggests a continuing interest intitally excited by Abbott and Hinton combined with the originator of the theory of vibrations.  The last is unkown to me at present.

     While there are many who believe there is no intellectual depth to Burroughs I find a great deal of mounting evidence to suggest he was very interested in the intellectual and scientific ideas of his time and, indeed, built his entire corpus around them.

     Both Hinton and Abbott are readily available, as well as Flammarion, if anyone want to join in a discussion.


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